Painted buntings may be a species on the way out but efforts are underway to save them.
Painted buntings are shy, secretive and often difficult to observe, except when they are busy at a bird feeder. Once they have discovered an easy source of food, over time they become less wary of activity nearby. Otherwise, this bird loves to hide in thickets making it difficult to spot.
This bird is considered by many to be the most beautiful in North America and their behaviors are interesting to watch.
The male has a dark blue head, green back with red rump, and underparts, which make it extremely easy to identify. The plumage of female and juvenile is green and yellow-green, one of the only truly green birds native to the United States. It is a member of the cardinal family.
During the spring, males sing from exposed perches. The song is sweet and variable. They also flutter around like a butterfly, fluff, bow and quiver their wings when seeking a mate.
Painted buntings feed on seed, snails, spiders and small insects. They often forage on the ground hopping about nervously to avoid predators. They are largely monogamous and are most often seen alone or as a mated pair.
Breeding begins in late April and lasts through to early August. The nest is typically hidden in low, dense vegetation. Working alone, the female weaves it into the surrounding shrubs for strength. Each brood contains three or four gray-white eggs, often spotted with brown, which are incubated for around 10 days. About 30 days after the first eggs hatch, the female usually lays a second brood.
Cowbirds frequently lay their eggs in the painted bunting’s nest, pushing the bunting’s eggs to the ground. Large snakes and hawks are common predators of eggs, young, and brooding females. Males are especially at risk from raptors due to their bright plumage.
The painted bunting can live to over 10 years of age, though most wild buntings probably live barely half that long.
The male painted bunting was once a popular caged bird, but its capture is now illegal. Populations are primarily declining due to habitat loss, especially in wetlands. Painting buntings, listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
This beautiful, multicolored songbird can be found year-round in Florida as a migrant, a winter resident and occasionally as a local breeder.
The Painted Bunting Observation Team (PBOT) started in the spring of 2005 as a grassroots project to study these birds in coastal North Carolina. Dr. Jamie Rotenberg at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington enlisted the help of the members of Lower Cape Fear Bird Club to observe and report the number of painted buntings at their feeders. From these humble beginnings, PBOT has grown with the help of funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partnerships with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Georgia, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and many others.
PBOT has now expanded its research area to include Florida. To learn more about PBOT or to join, visit www.paintedbuntings.org